Black anise is an herb often used in cooking and herbal remedies. Specifically, it is the seed of the Pimpinella anisum plant that is most commonly used in preparing food recipes. Black anise is similar in taste to fennel or licorice and is often used as flavoring in candies and other confections, as well as alcoholic beverages.
Also known as aniseed, black anise is native to Egypt, Crete, Greece and other Mediterranean climates. It is also commonly grown in Mexico, Germany and other parts of Europe and found in the wild in Italy. As an annual plant, anise is characterized by white flowers flanked by bright green leaves. It is the seeds, however, which are often used to add a unique flavor and scent to cooking recipes.
Sometimes referred to as the fruit of the anise plant, the seeds are dried for a period of time after they are harvested. Anise seeds also produce a unique scent that many find appealing, which is why it is sometimes used to enhance the smell of certain concoctions. They are also used to make herbal teas and tinctures.
In addition to cooking with anise, many believe the plant to have medicinal properties, as well. Often, it is used to create cough syrups and lozenges to soothe coughs and throat irritations. Black anise is also sometimes used to treat colic, asthma and bronchitis. Some also tout its effectiveness as an insect repellent when combined with other herbs, such as sassafras oil, and applied topically.
Health food stores sometimes carry black anise alongside other varieties of anise, such as Chinese star anise, which comes from an evergreen tree found in East Asia. Individuals who live in suitable climates and who enjoy cooking with herbs often grow their own black anise for such a purpose. Under the right weather conditions, anise can be grown in light soil and will begin flowering during warm summer months, but does not generally become fully ripe and suitable for use until the fall.
Vitamins B and C are among the healthy nutrients found in anise, as well as iron, calcium and potassium. Other nutrients include phosphorus and potassium. Anise is also known to contain protein, fiber and starch. While anise is frequently offered in food stores, black varieties can sometimes be more difficult to locate. Certain growers, however, specialize in cultivating black anise instead of other anise varieties.